EUROPEAN football expert Mark O'Haire (@MarkOHaire) analyses the biggest club match on the planet – El Clasico.
Real Madrid v Barcelona | Sunday 19:45 | Sky Sports/ Bet365 Streaming
Sunday night in Spain is Clasico time and just like when these two teams met back in December, Real Madrid have the opportunity to strike a fatal blow in the La Liga title race.
The game will be broadcast not only on Sky Sports but also via Bet365's fantastic streaming service. Certainly no excuse now for missing the action.
Clasicos tend to have a huge bearing on domestic honours and Sunday’s encounter at the Bernabeu is no different; victory for the hosts would give Los Blancos a six-point advantage at the summit with a game in-hand.
Even if the two teams can’t be separated at the final whistle, Madrid will feel only a second league trophy in nine seasons is within reach meaning Barcelona must pick up maximum points if they’re to be considered serious candidates.
Ahead of their Christmas contest, Real were in midst of their second-best unbeaten run in history (W25-D7-L0) but Zinedine Zidane's men required a stoppage-time leveller in what was a largely forgettable clash at the Camp Nou.
Real Madrid yet to impress?
Los Merengues have since progressed to the Champions League semi-finals and kept their place at the top of the tree but in truth, how often have Madrid convinced? And how regularly have we been blown away by their class, control and dominance?
The honest answer is, not often enough. Both La Liga giants are deeply-flawed and it’s not an exaggeration to suggest Los Blancos were second-best in both games against Bayern Munich before the red cards swung momentum in their favour.
Cristiano Ronaldo is living off moments rather than influencing the course of matches, Karim Benzema isn’t the player he once was and Gareth Bale’s rated doubtful for this encounter. Even in midfield, Madrid have lacked a little direction and all too often control.
At the back, Dani Carvajal and Marcelo are earning respect and rave reviews for their lung-busting efforts on the flanks but with Pepe and Raphael Varane absent through injury, neither Nacho nor Sergio Ramos are particularly assured and certainly vulnerable when put under pressure.
How will Madrid approach the game?
And despite all this negativity, Zidane’s troops continue to march on. The French legend relies on his world class players to produce moments of magic in the right areas of the pitch in a basis system and the results will say it’s worked.
But knowing a draw is almost enough to seal the title, will Real be slightly cautious? Or will they again go all-out for the victory? It’ll be fascinating to see and I’d presume they’ll take the latter approach. No Bernabeu crowd would allow Los Blancos to play for a point.
Madrid haven’t lost at their capital base in the league since February 2016 and have now scored in a remarkable 55 consecutive games. They’re undoubtedly in the better form, stronger position and have a clearer defined tactical strategy so it’s hard to dismiss their claims here at odds-against quotes.
Reason not to back the hosts
However, their loss of concentration, focus and poor execution of control has seen the hosts fall behind in eight of their last 13 games and that’s a big enough concern for me to swerve Real Madrid in the Match Odds completely.
Both Villarreal and Atletico have departed with at least a point from the Bernabeu this term – the only top-five teams to visit thus far – and Los Merengues boast a rather underwhelming W4-D1-L6 return in home Clasicos since 2005/06.
Last chance saloon for Barca
It really is all-or-nothing for Barcelona. The Catalans huffed and puffed against Juventus in midweek without doing any damage and with Neymar absent through suspension, Luis Enrique is missing a key cog in his superstar front-three.
Whether Paco Alcacer or Jordi Alba gets given the nod is likely to depend on which system Luis Enrique opts for. Neither the traditional 4-3-3 nor new-look 3-4-3 have given the Blaugrana the stability in midfield or menace from the flanks they’ve been crying out for.
Nevertheless, Barca have scored in each of their last 22 Clasicos and considering Madrid’s terrible defensive record, we should be backing the Catalans to at least get on the scoresheet in what should be an entertaining encounter.
Sure, Barcelona failed score over a two-legged European tie for only the second time in two decades and there’s a sense a golden age is coming to a close but this is really their last chance to go out in a blaze of glory. Forget the Copa del Rey, all their eggs must go into the Clasico basket.
The betting angles
The visitors have failed to win in three of their last four outings and fell to heavy defeats at both PSG and Juventus so I can understand any concerns about supporting Barca on Sunday. But they’ve suffered only four Clasico losses in 17 league meetings since Pep Guardiola arrived on the scene in 2008.
So I’m going to dip into a cracking market on Betfair and back Real Madrid or Draw and Both Teams To Score in their Double Chance/Both Teams To Score market. It’s 17/20 and sees us paid out should Los Blancos avoid defeat and BTTS banks at the Bernebeu.
These two clubs have met 20 times since 2011/12 – 19 have featured winning Both Teams To Score bets, 18 have produced three goals or more and 17 have combined the two famous markets to provide profit.
Finally, I’m also having a bite on the 3/4 (Betway) available for the Last Goal arriving between the 76th minute and full-time. It’s a selection that’s won in eight of the last 11 Clasicos whilst the pair have both scored over 20% of their goal tally in the final 15 minutes of matches this season.